Published: 21st October 2021
Babu the builder: Here's how this AP headmaster is building village schools, one brick at a time
Sridhar Babu has been presented with many awards but he knows that his work is far from over. This is how he does what he does
The good folks of Pathikonda laughed hard and long at Headmaster Sridhar Babu. Well, to be completely honest, it did seem like a ridiculous sight. Imagine two pillars supporting a board that welcomes all those who pass under it to the Zilla Parishad High School and a gate that closes behind them. The catch here is there is no compound wall to the right or the left. In fact, by the headmaster's own confession, despite the gates being closed, children would walk around the pillars and into the school.
What was the point? That's the question that puzzled the villagers and, indeed us as well, when we heard the story. But alas, it’s our burden to bear that we are short-sighted. That's because it takes a visionary like Sridhar Babu to see the answer, which is that brick by brick, a school is built. And school by school, children are nurtured and that's how a nation is built. Because make no mistake, the work that Sridhar Babu does, and has been rightly been awarded for at multiple times by multiple institutions, is nation-building at its very core.
Construction is his concern
That's why this man, who is a product of government schools himself, puts his faith in building infrastructure for the same government school he now serves. "There are so many rich students who already have what they need at school and at home. Those underprivileged students that study in government schools have no facilities nor are they able to get them," rues the man who has been in the profession of teaching since 1988 and is still raring to go. His aim is to set up infrastructure that will keep students in school and keep them coming back for more to drink deep from the cup of knowledge.
When it all started
But it's not just ZHPS Pathikonda that has awakened this mission in this 55-year-old teacher, he has been bullish about schools right from the beginning, that is, from the year 1989, when he was deployed as a second-grade teacher at the government school in Mumderlapalli, a school that ironically had no classroom. "With the help of villagers, we built a classroom painstakingly and since then, I have solicited their support every step of the way," says the teacher who was born in Palamaner, a town in Andhra Pradesh.
The basketball court at ZHPS Pathikonda
But it is not always the villagers who have risen to the occasion. Sridhar Babu has managed to cajole even tight-fisted politicians into not only opening their palms but also their eyes. When he was appointed the headmaster of the government school in PC Gunta in 1997, he petitioned the then Chief Minister of United Andhra Pradesh and believe it or not, Rs 11 lakh was sanctioned for his school. Similarly, when he was at ZPHS Lankapalli in 1998, he managed to impress upon Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituency member Srinivas Reddy into allotting money to build five rooms for the school. Wherever he went, including Ponnamakulapalli and Nellipatla, he literally built or added to what the school was.
Grow where you are
It was in 2005 that Sridhar Babu came to where he continues to work today, ZHPS Pathikonda, a school with a hill to one side and a village to the other. Situated on five acres of land, it was in desperate need of a compound wall, to keep the cattle out and students in. While the archway, gate and pillars are up, half of the compound wall is also ready by now. It was with the help of Join The Dots (JTD) Foundation, an NGO which also awarded him their annual Salute Award recently, he also initiated a computer room with 15 computers, a concrete basketball court and a garden as well. Let's not forget the library that houses over 5,000 books, a delight to the school and neighbouring ones as well. "Other schools borrow books from us in bulk for a stipulated period of time and return it after circulating it among own students, it makes me very happy," says the headmaster who pursued his BEd from Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering Technology, Andhra Pradesh and his BSc in Mathematics from Annamalai University, Tamil Nadu.
But happiness doesn't necessarily mean contentment for this headmaster who has now mastered the art of persuasion. Take for example the rich businessman named Badri he had to convince to donate the arch, board and pillars for ZHPS Pathikonda, which is now the pride of the place.
The school archway
So first and foremost, Sridhar Babu lays the groundwork. From the village Sarpanch, he managed to gather that Badri leaves for work at 5.30 am. So at 4.30 am on the dot, Sridhar Babu placed himself at the doorstep of Badri. And then followed the five-hour taciturn conversation. Well, we all know how that went down. But initially, the businessman put his foot down when it came to the board. "Too expensive," he said dismissively, we are told. Sridhar Babu put on his best smile, dipped his voice in honey and proceeded to say candidly, "Sir, that's all right. But think about it once. While you walk past the pillars and gate that you donated, you will also be walking under the board that was generously donated by someone else. Wouldn't that spoil the moment a bit for you?" The rest, as they say, is history. "Recently, Badri visited with his six-year-old daughter and played in our park and was so happy and, in turn, I was happy too," he shares. He also confesses that his trick is to drink a lot of water and ask God to contain his anger and multiply his patience.
Does all this require Sridhar Babu to work 12 hours a day? Yes. Does he go the extra mile every day? Yes. Does he have any qualms about it? That's a hard no. "On one side is the donor, with money at their disposal. And on the other side are my deprived students. And me? I am the bridge that connects the both, I am merely a mediator," he says humbly. Apart from being as transparent as glass, the headmaster builds accountability with his donors by handing them over the bills, complete with the number of the vendors as well, so that they can cross-verify for themselves.
Now, let's talk about 'the' decorated shelf of this equally decorated man. Winner of the two-time winner of the Green School Award by the central government, Best Complex Headmaster and Best Headmaster awards at the district level and whatnot. More importantly, it is the goodwill he has gathered that ensures that he continues his good work. Because it might take a village to raise a child but it takes just one headmaster and his headstrong belief in infrastructure to ensure that the village, including citizens, politicians and businessmen alike, truly unite to realise their responsibility towards raising children.